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TCL Stylus 5G review: A solid stylus phone under $300

Positives

  • Capable pen experience
  • reasonable price
  • High quality and vibrant screen
  • Attractive design and well-built
  • Good sounding stereo speakers

Negatives

  • Acceptable camera results
  • Limited RAM
  • Negative pen, no palm rejection

When LG was still in the smartphone market, buyers could choose the more affordable Stylo model. Motorola offers a The Moto G StylusAnd now we have the new TCL Stylus 5G to fill the void left by LG. The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra is the new Galaxy Note starting at $1,075, but you might not want to pay more than four times the cost of the TCL Stylus 5G for that ultimate experience.

TCL has a few good affordable options in the sub-$450 segment and has proven itself well in the US market with its own branded smartphones. TCL Stylus 5G is currently available from Metro by T-Mobile for $269.99 And from T-Mobile for $258. Unlike phones in the past at this price point, the TCL Stylus 5G is a solid option with good support from TCL.

At this low price point, there are clearly some trade-offs in specs and performance. TCL offers a fairly stock Android experience with a well-built stylus that helps you take notes, navigate around the phone, and convert handwritten text to text.

Determine

Healer MediaTek Dimensity 700 5G
Show 6.81 inches with a resolution of 2460 x 1080 pixels (395 ppi)
The operating system Android 12
RAM 4GB
storage 128 GB internal storage with a microSD card
cameras 50MP main, 5MP ultra-wide with 114.9 field of view, 2MP macro, and 2MP depth sensor. 13 MP front camera.
Connection 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 5.2, GPS, NFC, FM Radio
tentacles Accelerometer, Side Fingerprint Sensor, Electronic Compass, Proximity Sensor, Ambient Light Sensor, Gyroscope Barometer
battery 4000 mAh non-removable with 18W fast charging
LTE bands 2, 4, 5, 12, 25, 26, 41, 66, 71
5G bands N66, N25, N41, N77 Sub6
Dimensions 169.6 x 76.7 x 8.98 mm and 213 grams
the color Lunar Black

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TCL Stylus 5G vs Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

hardware

  • Big screen and solid speakers
  • Capable pen
  • Four rear cameras

TCL is known for its display technology and continues to incorporate NXTVISION technology into its smartphones. TCL Stylus 5G has a large 6.81-inch screen with a screen-to-body ratio of 90.2%. There is a central punch-hole front camera, with a viewable display around the hole. There is no hole in the front panel for the camera, so a full deck is available for interactions. The screen is an LCD panel, but it looks great, and I enjoyed some movies playing on the large panel.

Speaking of movies, there are two speakers so you can enjoy movies in landscape orientation with a bottom speaker and a headphone speaker that plays audio. I can watch movies comfortably without headphones, but there’s also a standard 3.5mm audio port on the bottom of the phone.

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The pen is held in the silo by magnet

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

There’s also a USB-C port, microphone, and bottom speaker along the bottom edge. The styluse is also placed in the lower right corner of the phone. A microphone is found at the top of the phone. The SIM/microSD card tray is on the upper left side, with the power and volume buttons on the right side. The power button also acts as a fingerprint sensor, so it’s quick and easy to unlock the phone with your thumb when you hold it in your right hand. Personally, I prefer the side fingerprint sensors to the ones under the screen.

also: Top 5 Cheap Phones: Flagship Features Under $450

The pen is well designed with a good length, heft and feel in the hand. However, it works best when you don’t have any other part of your hand or fingers touching the screen. Nothing will appear under the pen when your hand is resting on the screen. You can use your finger in the same way as a pen, so it’s really more of a finger that has a finer tip on the end. Most of the time, my hand wasn’t touching the screen, so I enjoyed experimenting with the stylus. However, I have larger hands and longer fingers than many people, and when I use a stylus on the phone, I rarely touch the phone with any other part of my hand.

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The four cameras support a good capture experience

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

All edges of the phone have a textured surface to help you grip the phone. The back is also matte black. The four cameras are found in a vertical line along the top left of the back with the LED flash near the bottom camera lens. The cameras help you take decent photos that are good for sharing on social media or with friends, but they won’t beat the cameras of flagship phones four times the price.

Also: the best camera phones

However, you can take photos, videos, portrait shots, panoramas, slow motion videos, light tracking, super macro, high pixel, and manual mode photos so your results depend greatly on lighting conditions and your ability to take good photos. There’s no night mode, so low-light shots are obviously a challenge.

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The buttons are well designed with neat edges

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

The phone houses a 4,000mAh battery which has proven to last me a full day of standard use. As a productivity-focused phone, I’d expect 4,500mAh or more, given what we see in other TCL smartphones. The TCL Stylus 5G also has 4GB of RAM, which was fine for most standard tasks, but the phone might struggle when gaming or pushing boundaries with many apps open and in use.

Programming

  • Android 12 out of the box
  • A few custom TCL tools
  • pen program

TCL Stylus 5G is one of the first TCL phones launched with Android 12 and TCL UI version 4.x. Android security update is available March 5, 2022 on our review device. TCL has stated that this phone will be upgraded to Android 13 and will receive two years of security updates.

TCL’s UI offers a fairly stock Android experience with most of TCL’s customization found in the app launcher, drop-down shade, and settings focused on TCL’s display technologies. The app launcher supports sorting by name, usage, installation, and icon color (this is new). The dropdown shade can be customized with your preferred controls with a variety of small and large tiles to choose from. Under Settings, we find specific options for NXTVISION display technology, pen options, and more.

There are only a few apps installed on the phone, such as Gallery, FM Radio, Nebo for TCL, MyScript Calculator 2, Messaging, and NXTVISION, that make it easier to use the features on the phone. The two pen-focused apps are solid, and the Nebo’s handwriting recognition is rather amazing. My bad handwriting was quickly recognized with a high rate of accuracy.

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When you remove the pen, these options appear

Matthew Miller/ZDNet

When the pen is removed from the silo, an overlay screen appears with options for TCL’s Nebo and MyScript Calculator 2, write a note, doodle, e-signature, magnifying window, GIF maker, and split screen. These are all self-explanatory functions, and there is no way to customize or rearrange the appearance of these utilities. I enjoy sending personalized GIFs to my wife, we have a window to view the text so I don’t need my reading glasses, and write notes.

If you remove the stylus with the screen off, the Notes app appears so that you can write notes without turning on the phone.

The Google Feed is available as the leftmost home screen panel. All of the other expected Google Android functionality is on the phone, too.

also: The best Android phones

Daily use experiences

  • Taking notes with a pen is fine
  • Locked on T-Mobile
  • Cheap phone with decent performance

I’ve been a Galaxy Note user since the Note 3 and enjoy using a stylus for quick notes and to move around the phone, so I don’t have to use my finger to scroll or write. The TCL Stylus 5G surprised me with its ability to support note-taking with the screen off. Just take out the pen and start jotting down your latest ideas with ease. By the way, the magnet inside the silo is very strong, and as you slide the stylus into the silo, the magnet absorbs it to secure it to the phone.

Nebo for TCL is more powerful than I expected, with excellent handwriting-to-text technology. It’s nice to see cloud backup options, but I’d much rather see support for existing note-taking apps like OneNote, Evernote, or others. MyScript Calculator 2 is also very nice, but it has a fairly limited number of supported operators, so it won’t help me with differential equations or very advanced engineering calculations.

The TCL Stylus 5G is currently locked to T-Mobile, but it supports Sub6 5G networks and has proven to work well connecting to local 5G towers. Phone calls sounded good and wireless performance was solid. It is not clear if the phone will launch with other wireless carriers or as an unlocked model in the future.

TCL has stated that the Stylus 5G will be upgraded to Android 13 and will also receive two years of Android security updates. That’s a good level of support for a phone under $300. The side fingerprint sensor works reliably, and you can also use face unlock for less secure operations.

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Overall, the TCL Stylus 5G is a phone worth considering if you’re looking for an affordable phone with stylus support as long as you can operate it without placing your hand on the screen. This wasn’t a real problem for me as I tend to use the stylus on all my phones without ever having my hand on the screen. TCL Stylus 5G delivers a solid experience at a fairly low price.